Excerpt from The Last Founding Father
On December 2, 1823, Monroe strode into Congress to deliver his seventh annual message to that body. He had aged noticeably—still tall and fit, but his hair had grayed and deep worry lines had etched his face. Still wearing knee breeches, silk hose, and buckle-top shoes while his audience wore ankle-length trousers, he seemed out of place—out of the distant past, come to ensure his own legacy. Members of Congress stood to applaud—and cheer—some of them trembling with awe as they watched him make his way down the aisle—the Last of the Founding Fathers.
Silence gripped the hall as he prepared to speak. In a voice that seemed more forceful than in previous years, he began by calling the years of his presidency “the golden age of this republic”—a time in which the United States had maintained “peace and amity with all the world.”
To maintain peaceful, friendly relations, he continued, his voice rising, he proclaimed United States supremacy in the Western Hemisphere, describing a line in the oceans around North and South America and warning the rest of the world—as his Virginia regiment had the British in 1776—Don’t tread on me!
In a two-hour speech aimed at foreign leaders as well as
Congress and the American public, the president formally closed the
Western Hemisphere to further colonization, saying that America’s
political system differed from Europe’s, and that the United States
would consider any European attempts to extend its system anywhere in
the Western Hemisphere as a threat to the United States. From its origins,
he said, the United States had sought nothing but peace—for its
citizens to fish, hunt, and plow their fields unmolested. The United
States had never interfered in Europe’s internal affairs and would
not do so—indeed, wanted
no part of Europe’s incessant wars. To that end, he pledged not
to interfere with Europe’s existing colonies in the New World….
Copyright © Harlow Giles Unger